Nevada County considers limits on outdoor events, including weddings

After selecting wedding rings and finding the right caterer, brides and grooms in Nevada County may soon have to draw up a traffic abatement plan.

The Board of Supervisors plans to vote Tuesday on an ordinance that would limit and regulate outdoor events, including weddings, parties and concerts, that in recent years have become highly popular in the rural region.

Under current rules, permits are required only for outdoor musical events. If the ordinance passes, nearly all outdoor events – with the exception of non-commercial and political gatherings – will be subject to an extensive permitting process through the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office.

The permit requirements include drawing up a detailed site plan, providing toilets and access to water. Organizers will also be required to submit plans on parking and traffic, depending on the area.

The ordinance would cap the number of events on any given property to four per year, which wedding-related business owners have called a death sentence for their livelihoods. Violators could face misdemeanor charges, including up to a $5,000 fine or jail time.

Local business leaders have criticized the proposal, noting that weddings are a huge economic driver for the region by bringing in tourists.

“The ordinance is a one size fits all, but it doesn’t fit,” said Paul Sieving, president-elect of the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce. “It really puts a crush on the wedding business.”

The move is necessary, say county officials, after a growth in complaints from neighbors who cite trash, noise and traffic as the untold cost of weddings and concerts in residential areas.

“The residents have a right to live with the reasonable expectation of peace and privacy,” said Nate Beason, chairman of the Nevada County Board of Supervisors.

Community development director Steve DeCamp said large-scale events that involve several hundred people pose a problem for many of the unincorporated parts that have windy and dead-end roads.

“The issue isn’t whether (weddings) are an economic driver or not,” DeCamp said. “It’s about whether that economic activity is taking place at the expense of people who have purchased residential properties for residential use.”

He added, “That’s why we don’t put auto body shops in neighborhoods. They are fundamentally incompatible.”

Authorities estimate that of the 58 wedding venues in the county, 14 are in residential neighborhoods.

The Sheriff’s Office would evaluate and enforce the permits. Sheriff Keith Royal, a supporter of the ordinance, said past events have “tested” his agency, with one concert near Truckee drawing 1,000 people.

“We’ve had several nightmare events regarding parking, noise, even people urinating in the woods. Mostly, it’s about noise,” Royal said.

In one unusual case, Royal said a neighbor completed a citizen’s arrest on a property owner who refused to turn down the music.

“He was arrested and booked,” Royal said. “But in most situations, people don’t want to get involved; they’re afraid of retribution.”

Sieving said he wasn’t opposed to some type of ordinance, but suggested that wedding venues shouldn’t have to pay the price for a few bad apples.

“Rather than pass it, we plan to ask the (Board of Supervisors) to table it and give us time for genuine public participation,” Sieving said.

The Chamber of Commerce is planning to mobilize business owners to attend Tuesday’s meeting. The ordinance has been months in the making, according to Beason.

Nevada County last year hosted 499 weddings, representing a market value of $15 million, according to The Wedding Report, a research company that tracks weddings. By comparison, Yolo County, which is roughly the same size, registered 953 weddings at a value of $31 million.

Yolo County issues permits based on the size of the event venue. Small locations – those hosting one event a month limited to 150 people – can apply for a site permit. Large venues must take part in a public planning process, subject to input from neighbors, said Eric Parfrey, principal planner at Yolo County.

Sieving predicts a domino effect for the local economy if the regulations are implemented. The cap on events will affect not only venue owners, he said, but also caterers, restaurants, hotels and photographers.

A survey by the Chamber of Commerce showed that 80 percent of weddings are from out-of-town visitors, generating approximately $40 million in economic activity annually.

Jan Roth, owner of the Roth Estate, a 13-acre former mining camp 2 miles outside of Nevada City, is watching the developments carefully. The 71-year-old garden designer makes a living by renting out her property 10 times a year for $4,500 per wedding.

“I’ll have to go back to doing agriculture,” she said. “In the past 15 years, we’ve spent $100,000 on the grounds.”

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